The Encryption Cold War: Government VS Internet

Governments all around the world are trying to decimate encryption. These efforts have been revealed in most countries through plans to crack cryptography within smartphones and other devices throughout many regimes. With the Queen’s Speech in May revealing more on the U.K.’s infamous communications data bill, we now know that “Snooper’s Charter” plans to ban a bunch of social messaging apps. In the U.S., the Obama administration has been approaching tech companies and applying pressure so they can gain access to encrypted communications. George Orwell’s 1984 is seemingly coming to life, as Big Brother wants inclusion to your emails, web browsers and mobile phone messages.

Also read: How do we Prepare Society for the Digital Age?

encryptionEncryption has been a problem for authorities ever since the public learned of its use cases. Codes and ciphers have been implemented for thousands of years — but mostly by the elite rulers. Some of the earliest known codes and ciphers were written in hieroglyphs; to this day, people still cannot decipher them.

Throughout most of cryptography’s life, governments and militaries controlled quite a bit of the standard encryption techniques. However, when public-key cryptography came into play, authorities were turned upside down as everyday people had the ability to apply encryption to their lives.

In 1970, James Ellis, a cryptographic expert at the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), produced the theory of “non-secret encryption” — which is now known as public-key encryption. Later, in 1976, asymmetric cryptography was published by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman. This form of cryptography showed a new class of cryptographic algorithms, which required two separate keys to cipher and decipher. Over the course of the next few decades, the public’s use of encryption has grown rapidly.

BigbrotherFast forward to today, where the internet is used by large networks of people and smartphone use covers 2.16 billion globally. The National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ have been said to have the power to gain access to smart-handsets by simply sending an encrypted text says former NSA agent Edward Snowden.

Government spy agencies are using various programs to intercept the public’s data, including the GCHQ’s “Smurf Suite” which is a collection of spyware that can gain access to your camera and shut your phone off. Government authorities based in the UK and U.S. have been some of the most vocal against encryption, putting many cyber and online bills on the table. The UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May tried to push “Snooper’s Charter” with relentless energy. However, the bill seems to have been abandoned this autumn, but similar policies will likely emerge in the future.

sticker,375x360A private task force from the U.S. called the “Hacking Team” wants to help police gain access to your encrypted files as well. What’s pretty funny is that earlier in the year, the team was hacked, leaking 400 GB of internal data and causing customers to stop using their system. The company is now launching its new system — RCS 10 — to help law enforcement catch criminals by cracking code. In an email sent to customers, Hacking Team says they will help US officials because the company is now “finalizing brand new and totally unprecedented cyber investigation solutions, game changers, to say the least.”

Central plans to give the state the ability to track your communications through online and cellular activity are growing more alarming every day. Governments pushing tech giants to do their bidding is also becoming commonplace, particularly with companies like Google and Apple. Many of these government agencies want a backdoor or skeleton key to all encrypted services added by the corporations creating secured devices. Most businesses know that encryption not only protects the privacy of the clientele, but also the company itself. Thus, by leaving a backdoor, the service can easily be exploited and open malicious avenues of attack to basically any venue within its system.

smurf-hacks-used-against-smartphones-graphicEncryption also covers financial transactions in the world of traditional finance and the emerging landscape of cryptocurrency. There may be a time where crypto-transactions become unsettling to governments, and they may try to squash more than just communications.

Earlier this year, a young teenager was arrested for supposedly funding ISIS with Bitcoin. Tales of terrorism have led to the increased watch of smartphone use by these rebel groups. Edward Snowden says the NSA is on the lookout in the US with a similar program to the Smurf Suite. Snowden told press: “to find out who those targets are they’ve got to collect mass data.” Most likely, if the special agencies are watching communication data, they are also tracking financial movement as well in the encrypted environment.

The day of intense surveillance and tracking our every move is upon us as we speak. Over time as privacy has been taken for granted, intercepted life data has become the norm. End-to-end encryption and anonymity scare the authoritative nature of the overreaching beast. But public sentiment towards invasive acts have created a Hydra of technologies and applications that grow stronger when their collaborative heads get severed.

Decentralized currencies and marketplaces are about to emerge faster than the hands of authority can grasp them. As the ideas of cryptocurrency and encrypted messaging continue, their pseudonymity increases and newer technologies advance. Talks of banning encryption are becoming all too familiar this day in age. The question is with the encryption “cold war” taking place, will authorities take new measures with their unlimited resources to crack the code?

What do you think about the war against encryption? Let us know in the comments below!


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